Today I read that people are turning to familiar books, movies, television shows, and music during the pandemic. When questioned as to why she has turned, once again, to a book series that she read many times in childhood, one respondent explained that she is drawn to the books because, unlike this season of coronavirus, she knows exactly how the story will end. Maybe this is why we are attracted to old television shows that made us laugh or cry in our younger years, and the music that soothed us as twenty-somethings when we faced an unknown world. These things are predictable. They seem simple. They comfort us in their familiarity.
As we begin to emerge from our homes, standing on the brink of a changed world that we don’t quite understand, trying to decipher regulations that we don’t quite understand, sifting through the theories and the rants and the laments, it’s no wonder that we seek solace in our entertainment. Streaming services have reported a huge surge in subscriptions, and isn’t it interesting that when we look through the endless lists of shows to watch or music to hear, many of us are choosing again and again what we already know? There’s a restfulness in it. An escape from today’s unknowns.
I had an English professor years ago who was struck down by cancer in the prime of his teaching career. I visited him as he lay on his deathbed. I’ve never forgotten that in his last few days on the earth, he wanted his wife to read to him from Leaves of Grass. It was, for him, a path worn smooth, and he was comforted by the words that were as familiar to him as breathing. This is what he wanted in his last, suffering hours: to draw from a deep and intimate well. He found solace in it.
As this worldwide pandemic has unfolded, I have seen Christians seeking solace, too. Like everyone else, many of us have, I’m sure, turned to familiar movies and music. We have pulled out photo albums and laughed at childhood photos. We have reminisced and sought to remember what things were like years ago, and what things were like only months ago. We read articles and search theories and try to find some kind of reassurance from the experts, and in the end we find that all of our comfort-seeking results in little peace. We’re still fearful. We’re still paranoid. We’re still lying down each night with a sense that we don’t know the end of the story, and we get up the next day and do it all again, looking for peace in all of the places where it can’t really be found.
Yet, there are “ancient paths” that call to us. The very words of God sit idle on our desks and bookshelves, words of life and hope and a future that is certain. We have access to all of the peace-giving power of the Bible, and still we fool ourselves into thinking we’ll gain more comfort from our entertainment or from a bunch of “experts” who can’t seem to reach a consensus on anything that is happening in our world at the moment. There is a longing in every person for things that are familiar, but sadly many of us who claim Christ are so unfamiliar with Scripture that it isn’t where we turn for reassurance.
I hope in the middle of all of this comfort-seeking and reflection we are tuning an eye inward, where we see what our hearts truly desire. We are so quick to focus everywhere else except the place where real hope is found, even when we are true and sincere believers in Christ. I pray that when we come to our dying day, it won’t be an episode of The Office that we turn to for its familiarity. Will we seek the Lord, learning His word through our years, until it is so familiar to us that we wouldn’t want anything else in our heart or mind when we are suffering and dying? Will we wear a smooth path through the words of life until we are certain that nothing else could bring us solace?
Enjoy your Netflix. Fire up Spotify. Revel in your favorite novel for the fifth time. Read the “experts” if you must. But, most of all, dwell in the words of the Lord. Let nothing be more familiar to you than Scripture, for in it you find that you do know how this whole crazy story ends. It ends in victory. In peace forever. In glory. This is the way. Walk in it.